'Israel has a right to defend itself', says US president Joe Biden as Gaza violence escalates
Fierce clashes between the Israeli military and rocket squads in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip spurred a concerted diplomatic push to end the most serious fighting to convulse the area since a 2014 war.
“My expectation and hope are that this will be closing down sooner than later,” US president Joe Biden told reporters at the White House. “But Israel has a right to defend itself when you have thousands of rockets flying into your territory.”
The US dispatched an envoy to the region and Egypt and Qatar sought to help broker a truce as relentless Israeli air raids and Palestinian rocket barrages sent the death toll climbing through the night on Wednesday. More than 60 Palestinians have been reported killed in Gaza and at least six people in Israel since the violence abruptly exploded late Monday.
The bombardments continued unabated into Wednesday evening as Hamas unleashed a massive volley of rockets at metropolitan Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial heartland, and the nation’s south that overwhelmed missile defenses. Sirens were heard also in the north. Netanyahu warned that “Hamas will pay a very heavy price for its aggression,” and a torrent of airstrikes followed, targeting military facilities, buildings used by the Islamic militant group, and key intelligence and military commanders.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan spoke on Wednesday with Qatari Foreign Minister Mohamed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani while Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas after talking to Netanyahu and telling him it is “vital now to deescalate.”
“Images that came out overnight are harrowing and the loss of any civilian life is a tragedy,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday. “I’ve asked Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Hady Amr, to go to the region immediately to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.”
Egyptian efforts to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas have so far failed to lead to a breakthrough, several Israeli and Arab media outlets reported.
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the country’s foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, had spoken to his Israeli counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi, and emphasized “the need to stop the Israeli attacks on the Palestinian territories and on the importance of sparing the people of the region any further escalation and the use of force.”
Israel reported in excess of 1,500 rocket strikes, including a new nighttime barrage in response to the assassination Wednesday of a group of Hamas military commanders. Hamas said more than 550 government and residential buildings had been targeted in Israeli raids.
Israeli defense officials accused militants of using Gaza civilians as human shields by launching rockets from civilian structures such as schools and populated neighborhoods.
‘Only the Beginning’
Netanyahu warned that other senior militant commanders would be targeted for assassination. “It’s only the beginning,” he said at a Tel Aviv-area hospital where some of the Israeli wounded had been taken. “We will strike at them in ways they never dreamed of.”
Military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus told reporters in a briefing that preparation for a ground maneuver “is not where we are at this stage.”
The United Nations Security Council met for a second emergency session on the crisis for Wednesday, though the U.S. is so far holding up any statement.
The hostilities spilled over from weeks of clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians in contested Jerusalem. The holy city, home to Jewish, Muslim, and Christian shrines, lies at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and competing claims to it have underpinned the latest confrontation.
“The occupation set this fire in Jerusalem and is responsible for any bombing that takes place,” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said late Tuesday. “If the occupation wants to escalate, then the resistance is ready, and if it wants to stop, the resistance is also ready.”
The violence has set off a wave of protests by Israeli Arabs in support of the Palestinians, and unprecedented clashes with Jews, and destruction of property in several cities. A curfew was imposed Wednesday in the central city of Lod, where Jews and Arabs live in a mixed community after Arab assailants set synagogues, shops, and cars on fire following the killing of an Arab resident by a Jewish man.
Israel and Gaza have skirmished repeatedly since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, and have fought three wars, the last seven years ago.
The current round has roots in tensions that have been festering since the beginning of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in April. Israeli restrictions on gathering at a traditional Ramadan meeting place outside Jerusalem’s Old City touched off the unrest, but after they were lifted, protests were rekindled by the threatened evictions of Palestinians from longtime homes in the eastern sector of the city that Israel captured from Jordan in 1967. The Palestinians and much of the international community consider East Jerusalem occupied territory.
Fighting is flaring at a time when Netanyahu’s rivals are trying to piece together a government after the fourth election in two years, and it has already impeded those efforts.
Mansour Abbas, head of the Islamist United Arab List faction, froze negotiations to join that potential coalition, citing the ongoing conflict. The lethal surge in violence has made it untenable for Abbas to join a Zionist-led government at this time, but he told Israel Radio on Wednesday that he’ll go back to talks once the fighting is over.
An earthquake of magnitude 6.1 struck the Moro Gulf, Mindanao region in the Philippines on Saturday, the European Mediterranean Seismological Centre said. The quake was at a depth of 10 km ( 6.21 miles), EMSC said.
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